Displaced Barbudans Resisting Land Grab

by Global Legal Action Network

Displaced Barbudans Resisting Land Grab

by Global Legal Action Network
Global Legal Action Network
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The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) is a unique non-profit organisation that pursues innovative legal actions across borders, challenging states and other powerful actors involved with human rights
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Latest: Feb. 27, 2024

Landmark win at the Privy Council

Together with Barbudan land defenders we just secured a landmark win at London-based Privy Council  


This morning the Privy Council delivered a landmark win for communities across the Caribb…

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The people of Barbuda, a small island in the Caribbean, saw their island-home devastated by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Instead of contributing to recovery, foreign developers took advantage of Barbudans’ forced displacement to clear acres of forest to build a playground for billionaires, starting with a multi-million-dollar private resort and a new airport to serve private jets. Since then, developers expanded construction building a golf course over a protected wetland.

This was done without the consent of Barbudans. The Barbudan system of communal land ownership has come under attack, with changes to the law that benefit foreign developers and shut Barbudans out of decision-making processes.

 Runway construction and access roads cutting through previously untouched forest

Construction of luxury resorts over national park and protected wetland

Two Barbudans, backed by a growing community of local land defenders, are now fighting for the right to determine their own future. They have persevered despite harassment and threats of legal action for trespass and sedition.

This is a true David versus Goliath fight; developers with endless resources are banking on Barbudans giving up their fight. Islanders need help to continue their legal battle. There are serious environmental consequences at stake: Barbuda is extremely vulnerable to climate change as a low-lying island protected by a delicate wetland ecosystem.


Above: Aerial view of island showing scale of initial phase of the airport  runway and its forested location


GLAN is supporting the islanders, and they are also represented pro-bono by barristers from Garden Court Chambers at the Privy Council, to appeal for their right to fight against the people exploiting their land, as custodians of their island. Barbudans need support quickly to ensure that we can continue building the wider case to fight against the destruction of their island-home.

This is about more than Barbuda. A win for Barbudans represents a win for land rights defenders globally: this case will define whether communities across the Caribbean have a right to protect their homes from colonial style exploitation and abuse by foreign developers.

Stand with Barbudan land defenders and send a message to these powerful developers that Barbudans are not alone in this fight.

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Update 12

Global Legal Action Network

Feb. 27, 2024

Landmark win at the Privy Council

Together with Barbudan land defenders we just secured a landmark win at London-based Privy Council  


This morning the Privy Council delivered a landmark win for communities across the Caribbean fighting against the exploitation and destruction of their island-homes. We’re celebrating this ruling in favour of heroic local land defenders John Mussington and Jacklyn Frank.  

The Privy Council were only called on to answer a specific legal point on standing, however the hearing and the judgment raised alarm bells at the clear lack of transparency and proper enforcement of planning law by the government and their failure to adhere to the rule of law. These are their key findings: 

  1. John and Jackie have more than sufficient interest given that their village sits less than two kilometres from the runway therefore impacting their environment coupled with noise disturbances and possible contamination of their drinking water. 

  1. You do not need to be an expert in environmental matters to take such cases, as long as you are a concerned local or have some knowledge you are empowered to take a case. 

  1. This approach was deemed by the Court to be consistent with the Escazú agreement (Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean) to which Antigua and Barbuda are a State Party. This is the first time this international agreement has been cited in any Caribbean case   

  1. The government’s failure to follow its own planning laws raises serious rule of law issues. To this day the EIAs have not been disclosed to or seen by John, Jackie or their legal team.  

Today’s win sets a precedent for other communities facing similar challenges. By removing the barriers to accessing local legal remedies the judgment serves to legally empower communities who wish to challenge harmful developments that are destroying their lands and livelihoods. 

With the standing issue now resolved, John and Jackie are set to return to the local courts with GLAN’s support to halt the airport going ahead, restore the land and challenge other luxury developments. 

This is a significant and encouraging win for Caribbean communities fighting to protect their land and hold powerful actors accountable. We really couldn’t do this kind of work and support these heroic communities without you.  

Today at 6pm GMT we’ll be hosting a briefing with the local land defenders and lawyers who argued our case. We’d love for you to be there too.  

Access the briefing here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bGkd-fqVR0S6aTinRiO-AA

 

Update 11

Global Legal Action Network

Feb. 1, 2024

Barbudan fisherman takes new legal action to save endangered species

Today GLAN, alongside fearless local Barbudan fisherman and tour guide George Jeffery, initiated legal proceedings against the Antiguan-based Development and Control Authority (DCA) who approved a controversial development of a private luxury residence at Cedar Tree Point, part of the Codrington Lagoon National Park which is a Ramsar Convention protected wetland and home to Barbuda’s pride and joy – the magnificent frigate bird sanctuary.

GLAN’s lawsuit seeks to stop the harmful development in its tracks.  

The development is proposed to be on an untouched beach, locally preserved as a conservation site and nesting habitat for endangered sea turtles. This development, which is ongoing, threatens the turtles, the frigate bird sanctuary, the lagoon, and the very existence of the Barbudan people. The effects of the building are leaving the community even more vulnerable to extreme weather events.  

Fisherman and local tour guide to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary George Jeffery, our co-claimant, lives a peaceful quiet life in harmony with the birds on which he relies for his income. While his entire livelihood is at risk, what worries him most is the “significant risks to the delicate ecosystem, a critical habitat for our beautiful Frigate birds”.  

Barbudans have protected this area from human harms and used it in a sustainable way for hunting, fishing, and leisure in harmony with the ecosystem. Now, the luxury villa includes a 97.7 acre “security buffer” to lock out Barbudans from the land that they have treated with care and respect.  

This case seeks to stop this illegal land grab, save the fragile ecosystem that it threatens, and enable local people to preserve their way of life and land for future generations.

Update 10

Global Legal Action Network

Nov. 15, 2023

Barbudan land defenders have their day in court

Barbudan land defenders with supporters outside the court room

After much determination and hard work, Barbudan land defenders, Jacklyn Frank and John Mussington, finally faced representatives of the government of Antigua and Barbuda in court over their right to challenge environmentally destructive developments.

The board of judges at the Privy Council hearing raised many concerns over government activities surrounding the building of the runway on Barbuda, noting that no proper planning process was followed as required by law; Barbudans were not informed of the details of the project or allowed to engage in the process.

Stronger together: Barbudans united to plan next steps in the fight to protect their island-home

The hearing was a turning point for Barbudans who are uniting against destructive developments on the island and are energised to plan next steps in their struggle against developers and government, and to ensure they have a voice in the future of their island.

Airport works accelerate before Privy Council ruling received

As we left court we heard that work on the airport project, that is being built solely to serve ultra-wealthy tourists and the ecologically damaging 'luxury' villa developments across the island, was accelerating. Barbudans on island reported that Prime Minister Gaston Browne flew in from Antigua to meet with developers and visit the airstrip despite the ongoing legal challenge. As the court noted, Barbudans should be given the opportunity to engage with the project before work continues unlawfully.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda and developers are intent on pushing ahead with the exploitation of Barbuda before they can be held accountable - your continued support for the community fighting back is crucial.  

Collage of supporters around the world stading in solidarity with Barbudans

Thank you!

There has been incredible support for Barbudan land defenders, with messages of solidarity from around the world from activists, individual supporters and organisations.

We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all those who have donated to the crowdfund and shared messages and updates about the case online. This support is vital for small communities to successfully hold powerful actors to account.

John and Jackie were supported by GLAN at the hearing and represented pro bono by barristers from Garden Court Chambers, 3 Hare Court and by Theo Solley of Sheridans. A recording of the hearing is available on the court's website.

Update 9

Global Legal Action Network

Oct. 31, 2023

Barbudans in London court to fight for their rights to protect island-home

Two brave Barbudans, Jacklyn Frank and John Mussington, are travelling to the London based Privy Council (the Supreme Court for the Eastern Caribbean) on 8th November, taking a stand against the government of Antigua and Barbuda, who have denied them the right to challenge environmentally destructive developments on Barbuda, effectively allowing billionaire developers to act with impunity.

Barbudans have persevered with their opposition to the destructive airport and other developments despite harassment and threats of legal action for trespass and sedition.

"The decision to fight against the development of the private-jet airport on Barbuda was not taken lightly. But it had to be done… We, as Barbudans, were not consulted about this development. Our environment, our culture, our history, and our right to be consulted and participate in the future of our Lands have been totally ignored.” 
- Jackie Frank, Barbudan Land Defender

GLAN is supporting them to bring their case and ensure their right to legally challenge developments that harm or destroy their island, and they are represented on a pro bono basis by barristers from Garden Court Chambers. Read more about the case here.

Take action by supporting and sharing the crowdfund; follow us on social media and use #SaveBarbuda to join the conversation and share messages of support for John and Jackie as they prepare for court. The hearing will be live streamed on the court's website, available to watch here on the day and will run from 10 am to 4 pm (UK).

Thank you for your continued support - it really does make a difference!


Update 8

Global Legal Action Network

July 19, 2023

GLAN uncovers developers misusing the British Royal Family name to secure lease

Shockingly GLAN recently uncovered documents suggesting UK developer Henry Anderson used the British Royal Family name to help push through his environmentally destructive development on Barbuda, misleading the local community and local council; as reported in the Independent.

Despite Buckingham Palace denying knowledge of Anderson he continues to state there is an open invitation to 'certain members of the Royal Family' to use his private luxury complex in future - regardless of the initial claims the lease was for the Royal Family themselves, and the construction causing serious harm to fragile ecosystems, wildlife habitats and the local community. 

We must ensure that colonial-style developers are held to account as they continue to treat Barbudans and the island with complete disregard. Barbudans deserve full transparency with all development leases and have the right to participate in the future of their country.

GLAN now plans to audit all development leases on Barbuda due to the glaring misconduct already uncovered, including those linked to billionaire John Paul DeJoria and Casamigos Tequila cofounder Michael Meldman, and other wealthy foreign investors. With your support we are continuing to build our case and support Barbudans in their fight for justice.

Update 7

Global Legal Action Network

June 20, 2023

Time Is Running out for Barbudan Land Defenders

In May GLAN lawyers visited Barbuda to increase support for land defenders. Our team experienced first-hand the intimidation tactics used by private developers. While walking on public beaches to inspect the developments, security filmed and followed our team, and called the police.

While in Barbuda, we uncovered that U.S. developers have allegedly used connections to celebrities and high-profile individuals to push ahead with an ecologically destructive development, without adequately informing and consulting the Barbudan people. 

Across the Caribbean there is a concerning trend of public land and access to beaches being sold off by governments to foreign investors at the expense of local communities, often bypassing citizen rights to be consulted in the process. During the visit we participated in a community meeting in Codrington to listen to the concerns of Barbudans and hear their vision for the future of their community. What we heard was astonishing; the community told us that not only is the environment being damaged but everyday life of Barbudans has drastically changed.

The community told our team that freedom of movement over community owned lands is restricted by foreign developers who intimidate and threaten people with police involvement to keep them off public beaches. Locals who speak up about their rights or previous land titles are harassed, pressured to sell their land and finally threatened with litigation. They report a need for increased local legal support to counter the increasing speed of construction and exclusion from their lands. We can't let this stand.

‘We have to fight for the land for our future generation… if we don’t who’s going to do it? So, we’ve got to fight…so that our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren have something.’ – Barbudan citizen at the May community meeting

Ecocide – no turning back

The developers are wreaking havoc on the fragile ecosystem of the island, tantamount to ecocide; it is imperative these developments are stopped immediately before it's too late for the Barbudan environment and way of life for the people who call it home. Sadly, informed by recent experience, there is a very real fear in the community that as developers destroy natural shoreline defences and exacerbate coastal erosion, another hurricane will see higher loss of life and island-wide devastation.

What’s next?

In November GLAN will be supporting two Barbudans as they bring a legal challenge to the London-based Privy Council and continue fighting against the construction of a new airport built on top of previously untouched forest – an integral part of the developers’ plan to further exploit the island. The Privy Council will decide whether Barbudans affected by projects such as the airport have the right to legally challenge the government in court. A previous Court of Appeal decision ruled they had no legal standing to challenge such developments.      

The case is integral to the fight against ongoing destruction of Barbuda by foreign developers and will have repercussions across the Caribbean.

We are currently building our case together with locals, but global action and solidarity are also needed to pressure the developers and hold central government to account to human rights obligations and commitments.

Thanks to your support we are stepping up support for Land Defenders at this critical time!

Update 6

Global Legal Action Network

May 9, 2023

GLAN Deepens Support at Critical Moment for Barbuda Land Defenders

Photo: Barbudan land defenders at Codrington Lagoon National Park standing in clearance made for luxury villas

Barbudan land defenders are once again facing legal harassment while fighting to protect their homeland, this time threatened with charges of sedition, despite winning a legal victory just last year when false claims of trespass were dismissed by the court. 

Luxury developments on the island are continuing at speed with land clearances and construction underway on Codrington Lagoon National Park and other locations right now. We are at a key turning point in the fight to preserve the Barbudan way of life and fragile ecosystems, so GLAN has decided to deepen our support for islanders at this critical juncture. 

We will be visiting this month to meet with islanders and hear their concerns as well as their community vision for their own futures and that of the island. 

Photos, top to bottom: Luxury villas in development on cleared land Codrington Lagoon National Park, Ariel view of the land clearance

By contributing to our crowdfund you can help bring Barbudan voices into the spotlight and help them put an end to the mass land grab and environmental destruction taking place. 

Update 5

Global Legal Action Network

Nov. 8, 2022

A win for Barbudan land rights defenders

A joint campaign by GLAN and Front Line Defenders to end prosecution of land defenders on the island of Barbuda has been successful.  

For the past two years, 22 Barbudan land defenders have been repeatedly summoned to court on charges of trespass 

The land defenders are concerned about development projects which are being built on communally owned land. Developers from large, international corporations have been clearing wetlands, nature reserves, and habitats of endangered animals, such as turtles, to make way for multiple luxury tourist resorts.  

Thland defenders were monitoring the progress of development sites when they were arrested and charged with trespassing. At their hearing in June 2022, the presiding judge threatened defendants that they could face jail time.  

GLAN has been supporting the Barbudans in their legal challenge to stop construction of luxury resorts on Barbudan communal land. Together with Front Line Defenders, we launched an urgent appeal calling out the prosecution for lack of evidence and called for an end to the prolonged prosecution and legal harassment.  

In a victory for Barbudan residents, on the day of the hearing, the charges were dismissed for want of a “virtual complainant’. This is a significant victory in an ongoing battle to preserve the rights of Barbudan people.  

But Barbudans still need your help. Development companies, like PLH, continue to build luxury tourist resorts across Barbuda. A donation today will help us: 1) Support local legal actions conducted by a Barbudan attorney; 2) finance research work by Barbudan activists to collect key visual and oral evidence needed to oppose the false ‘sustainability’ narrative of developers and billionaires; and 3) strengthen GLAN’s efforts to build a comprehensive evidence database, a resource that will be shared with other legal teams fighting against disaster capitalism across the region. 

Will you help us Save Barbuda? 

Update 4

Global Legal Action Network

Feb. 2, 2022

Barbuda's only wetland being destroyed for luxury villas & golf course

Some unfortunate news. 

Barbuda’s island residents have been excluded from their lands and forced to watch through Instagram posts as their treasured wetland and national park are being transformed into luxury private resorts and a golf course for the ultra wealthy.

Today - on International Wetlands Day - Barbudan activists and their partners have launched SaveBarbuda.org, in an attempt to raise their voices.

The site details how Barbuda’s lands are being grabbed up by celebrity billionaires and foreign companies, and privatized to create the highly contested luxury resorts and villas. These developments are jeopardizing endangered species, water supply and the ability of the low-lying island to withstand climate change — all while upending the island’s unique communal tenure system, developed following the abolition of slavery.

GLAN has partnered with the SaveBarbuda movement to launch this new advocacy website and to drive this movement forward.

We need your help more than ever. Together, we can work to stop these companies from destroying Barbuda’s protected wetlands, defend the critically endangered species they’ve put at risk, and stand in solidarity with the Barbudans whose sovereignty and human rights are being violated each day.

With your donations, GLAN and the SaveBarbuda movement will: 1) Support local legal actions conducted by a Barbudan attorney; 2) finance research work by Barbudan activists to collect key visual and oral evidence needed to oppose the false ‘sustainability’ narrative of developers and billionaires; and 3) strengthen GLAN’s efforts to build a comprehensive evidence database, a resource that will be shared with other legal teams.

It's a race against time as construction continues. Your support can fuel Barbuda's victory.

Update 3

Global Legal Action Network

Dec. 9, 2020

We submitted an int'l complaint calling for independent mission visit

GLAN has submitted a complaint to the Ramsar Secretariat calling for an urgent intervention to arrange an independent inspection mission. The complaint concerns the destruction of a listed wetland on the island of Barbuda after the government of allowed the development of a luxury resort and golf course by the US partnership ‘Peace Love Happiness’ (PLH) and Discovery Land Company, a US-based real estate developer and operator.

Since 2018, PLH Barbuda and Discovery Land Company have been building "Barbuda Ocean Club" on a site that falls within Codrington Lagoon National Park (“CLNP”). PLH Barbuda and Discovery Land Company have operated on the island through a lease that the Barbuda Council considers in breach of the Barbuda Land Act, 2007. This legislation codified the island’s unique collective tenure system established after the abolition of slavery. For two years, deforestation and sand mobilization for the PLH development have severely affected the ecology of CLNP, a designated Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Secretariat is a Geneva based body overseeing the implementation of the intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.



According to the land concession granted to PLH (Barbuda) the nearby controversial airport, constructed on confiscated land in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, was positioned to service PLH’s resort. Litigation efforts to halt the construction of the airport are paused due to COVID.


Update 2

Global Legal Action Network

Oct. 1, 2019

Court of Appeal Reinstates Barbudans' Case

Great news! 

As you may recall, the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda struck out the claim by Barbudans seeking to defend their land from being seized and used for an ecologically destructive international airport. However, the Barbudans recently won their case in the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal against the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority, which overturned the decision of the High Court. The courts will now examine the governments’ failure to comply with its own laws and regulations in selecting the land and clearing forest to make way for the development.  

Thank you to all those who have supported the case so far. This is just one small victory in a long legal battle which we expect to be appealed all the way to the highest courts. 

The money raised so far has been transferred to the Barbudans’ legal team to pay for the costs of past hearings. Each new hearing brings unavoidable expenses and so we need to raise more funds to cover future costs.

We are keeping the crowdfunding page live, so please share this page with others to spread the word and ensure that the Barbudans can continue their fight! 

Here is a suggested social media post which you could share with your contacts: 

“Court of Appeal reinstates Barbudans’ legal claim challenging the confiscation of their land & clearing of island's forests following hurricane, all for the construction of airport & tourism development. Please donate & help continue their legal battle bit.ly/2C7YPIA”


Details on the most recent decision

The High Court, in hearing the judicial review proceedings challenging the decision to build the airport, had found that affidavits filed for the initial hearing were “spent”. This was because they had already been used before in the proceedings and could no longer be relied on without permission of the court. As permission had not been granted, the judge struck out the claim.

The Barbudans’ legal team argued that the judge can choose to correct such procedural errors in the interests of justice, rather than taking the draconian step of striking out the claim. The Court of Appeal agreed, accepting all of the legal team’s arguments and rejecting all of Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority’s submissions.

The court reinstated the Barbudans’ claim and allowed them to rely on the documents filed earlier in the proceedings. It has also set aside the order which forced the Barbudan claimants to pay the Airport Authority’s costs. 

Update 1

Global Legal Action Network

July 17, 2019

Progress so far...

We have some great news for you! The Court of Appeal has granted the Barbudans leave to appeal the decision of the High Court to strike out their claim against the Airport Authority. This means they will have the chance to argue against the strike out and for a substantive case to be heard. The process of preparing for the appeal has begun and we will let you know when a date is set for the hearing.

Back in April, the High Court heard the claimants’ arguments against the Development Control Authority and the Attorney General on whether the interim injunction should be reinstated, which would prevent the public authorities from constructing the airport. They argued that the works on the airport breached Antigua and Barbudan planning law and that continued development of the airport would seriously harm Barbuda’s environment and wildlife. We are still waiting for the judgment on this point but will update you as soon as we are informed of a decision.

Thank you to everyone who has donated so far, which has enabled the tireless Barbudans and their legal team to take the case forward. We will let you know of any further updates in the case.

We fight on.

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